Low-tech Baby Care

Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) is the brainchild of Colombian pediatrician Edgar Rey, who introduced it to the Instituto Materno Infantil in 1978. It was an idea born out of desperation. The institute served the city’s poorest—those who lived crammed in the rickety makeshift dwellings in the foothills of the surrounding mountains. At the time, this was the biggest neonatal unit in all of Colombia, responsible for delivering 30,000 babies a year.

Overcrowding was so bad that three babies would have to share an incubator at a time and the rate of cross-infection was high. Death rates were spiraling, and so too was the level of abandonment. Many young, impoverished mothers who never even got to touch their babies found it easier just to take off.

Scouting around for a solution to these problems, Rey happened upon a paper on the physiology of the kangaroo. It mentioned how at birth, kangaroos are bald and roughly the size of a peanut—very immature, just like a human pre-term baby. Once in its mother’s pouch, the kangaroo receives thermal regulation from the direct skin-to-skin contact afforded by its lack of hair. It then latches onto its mother’s nipple, where it remains until it has grown to roughly a quarter of its mother’s weight, when it is finally ready to emerge into the world.

This struck a chord with Rey. He went back to the institute and decided to test it out. He trained mothers of premature babies to carry them just as kangaroos do. Working alongside his colleague Hector Martinez, he taught them the importance of breastfeeding and discharged them just as soon as their babies were able. The results were remarkable. Death rates and infection levels dropped immediately. Overcrowding was reduced because hospital stays were much shorter, incubators were freed up, and the number of abandoned babies fell.

Read more: Kangaroo care—why keeping baby close is better for everyone, Ars Technica. Thanks to Tim Miller.

Military Complexity: Lasers or Longbows?

As military capabilties have evolved, so too have their complexity. Indeed, they are in a symbiotic relationship in that advanced military capabilities are both a product of and dependent on a complex network of resources, products, services and organisations.

A comparison of the manufacturing requirements for the traditional aboriginal spear and the F88 Austeyr assault rifle provides an example of how complexity has increased.

Arguably, there is an exponential increase in complexity because the manufacture of modern military equipment is dependent on a number of other industries, such as finance, telecommunications, information technology and energy.

The networks that support military capabilities are a subset of the broader global economy, implying that advanced military capabilities cannot exist without the underlying economic base to support it. [Read more…]

The Slingshot Channel

The Slingshot Channel is a dedicated YouTube channel that covers rubber powered launchers in each and every detail.

Thanks to Edwin Gardner.

Rebuilding, Testing and Documenting Self-Made Wi-Fi Antennas

Pretty Fly For A Wi-Fi revisits the histories, origins and uses of self-made Wi-Fi antennas. Many of these designs were once shared through home pages that no longer exist and are now only partially accessible through the Internet Archive. It is a combination of pots and pans, dishes and cans through which people from around the world give shape to their collective dream of making an alternative internet.

This project tries to revive these designs by rebuilding, testing and documenting them. The antennas serve as an interesting point of departure to think about the internet’s infrastructure and how day-to-day users could potentially influence its shape and use.

Most of the antennas result out of the idea of wireless community networks, an idea which emerged shortly after the commercial introduction of Wi-Fi equipment in the early 2000s. These grassroots initiatives aim to build alternative network infrastructures, often on a peer-to-peer basis and without the need for costly wires. Such network infrastructures can be found on rooftops, balconies and windowsills and can cover large distances by broadcasting from building to building.

They are built for a variety of reasons, sometimes to provide broadband connections in areas where there are none, to make censorship free alternatives to the internet or to share the costs of a single internet connection.

More: Roel Roscam Abbing’s website (pictures) & Lídia Pereira’s booklet (drawings, PDF).

Previously: How to Build a Low-tech Internet.

Solar Concentrator with Inflatable Mirrors

We are reaching an important milestone in the Testfield: the high-precision membrane mirror that we have been working on for the last two years, is standing. A team within the technology group has designed and built a prototype solar concentrator by innovating and developing the inflatable membrane mirror technology first introduced by father and son Hans and Jürgen Kleinwächter several decades ago. The present advances are the result of a dedicated team within Tamera working in cooperation with Jürgen Kleinwächter, SunOrbit (Germany) and supporters in India and Australia.

Our prototype mirror uses 0.1mm thick reflective polymer films inflated with air pressure, over a lightweight aluminium frame, achieving high optical precision cheaply and with very low embodied energy. It has an effective optical aperture of 4m2, concentration of over 1000 times, reaching over 1000 degrees Celsius, and has applications ranging from round-the-clock cooking with storage, through ceramics, metalwork and lime burning for waterproof clay buildings, to photo-catalytic fuel production from water and CO2. Future concentrators will undoubtedly take the technology further.

Many challenges in the components and sub-systems have been overcome over the last two years. Now we will start to see how the system really functions as a whole. We have progressed from unstable wooden experiments to a simple, lightweight aluminium framework, developed a deflectometric mirror analysis technique using computational photography, built a tool to weld flouropolymers together (basically welding Teflon to Teflon), designed and fabricated a dual-axis tracking construction, and invented a robust technique to evenly tension membrane films. We are looking forward to testing and tuning the complete system. System tests will start now, as we continue to complete the details.

Quoted from: High-precision Membrane Mirror Research in the SolarVillage Testfield of Tamera, August 2016.

Previously: The bright future of solar powered factories.

The Pirate Book

The Pirate Book offers a broad view on media piracy as well as a variety of comparative perspectives on recent issues and historical facts regarding piracy. It contains a compilation of texts on grass­roots situations whose stories describe strategies developed to share, distribute and experience cultural content outside of the confines of local economies, politics or laws.

These stories recount the experiences of individuals from India, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, Mali and China. The book is structured in four parts and begins with a collection of stories on piracy dating back to the invention of the printing press and expanding to broader issues (historical and modern anti­piracy technologies, geographically­ specific issues, as well as the rules of the Warez scene, its charters, structure and visual culture…).

The Pirate Book. Nicolas Maigret and Maria Roszkowska, 2015. Picture: a code wheel, a type of copy protection used on older computer games.

Thanks to Melle Smets.

The Amish Horse-Drawn Buggy Is More Tech-Forward Than You Think

Despite what you heard, the Amish aren’t against technology. Communities adopt new gadgets such as fax machines and business-use cell phones all the time—so long as the local church approves each one ahead of time, determining that it won’t drastically change their way of life.

So it is with the Amish horse-drawn buggy. You might have thought the technology inside this 1800s method of transportation stopped progressing right around then. Instead, buggy tech keeps advancing, and buggy makers have become electricians and metalworkers to build in all the new tech you can’t see under the traditional black paint.

Read more at Popular Mechanics. Via Amish America.

Spinning Toy Reinvented as Low-tech Centrifuge

Growing up in India, Manu Prakash entertained himself with a bottle cap that spun around on two strings that he tugged with his fingers. As a physical biologist at Stanford University in California, he is now transforming that simple toy, called a whirligig, into a cheap tool to help diagnose diseases such as malaria.

Other researchers have come up with low-tech, inexpensive centrifuges that used salad spinners3 and egg beaters4, but these devices could manage only around 1,200 rotations per minute (r.p.m.) and took too long to process samples, says Prakash.

Hoping to do better, his team went on a shopping spree to a toy store, collecting spinning gizmos and filming them with a high-speed camera. Yo-yos spun too slowly (and required training to use). But whirligigs were both easy to operate and reached speeds of 10,000 r.p.m., comparable to a commercial centrifuge.

See & read more at Nature. Thanks to Rodger Kram & Austin Liu.

Silbo Gomero: The Dying Language of Whistling

The language of whistles known as Silbo Gomero – or just el silbo (‘the whistle’) – was once heard widely throughout La Gomera, one of the smallest of the seven main Canary Islands off the Atlantic Coast of Africa. Now it is used only by a few remaining shepherds on the steep hills of La Gomera’s countryside.

A singular form of communication used with both people and animals, in 2009 Silbo Gomero was named a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Angello Faccini’s arrestingly photographed film finds one of Silbo Gomero’s last remaining practitioners reflecting on his fading way of life and its ephemeral language. Picture: Unesco.

Anti-Surveillance Clothing

The use of facial recognition software for commercial purposes is becoming more common, but, as Amazon scans faces in its physical shop and Facebook searches photos of users to add tags to, those concerned about their privacy are fighting back.

Berlin-based artist and technologist Adam Harvey aims to overwhelm and confuse these systems by presenting them with thousands of false hits so they can’t tell which faces are real.

The Hyperface project involves printing patterns on to clothing or textiles, which then appear to have eyes, mouths and other features that a computer can interpret as a face.

Read more: Anti-surveillance clothing aims to hide wearers from facial recognition